I arrived at Abu Dhabi international airport around 730 am on May 21st. I was really anxious as I had just sat for many hours on a plane. The airport was really small and I must have walked around it about ten times easily before my next flight. I went to the bathroom a few times, exchanged some money and bought a few things. I had left hand sanitizer at home and chapstick so I picked those up at the airport pharmacy for not that many Dhirams, the local currency in the UAE. My flight to Mumbai was leaving at 1010am, so I chilled out and at around 925am went down for boarding. I have learned that with these international flights, they board super early because people always tend to be late and futzing around.
As it turned out we had to board a bus and was taken to another terminal on the otherside of the airport. This airport is being heavily renovated and will be probably state of the art and very big when it is done. This time though the plane we got on was quite old. I was really tired and crashing from being up for so many consecutive hours, plus the time difference of eight hours. I sat down next to this guy from Texas who was very interesting. He had previously been in the Navy and now worked for some big time shipbuilding company that was affiliated with the government of the UAE. He lived in Abu Dhabi now, after living in Dubai for the past thirteen years. He explained to me how expensive land in Dubai was and how relatively inexpensive land outside the downtown area of Abu Dhabi was. We bullshitted for quite awhile but shortly after takeoff, I moved to an open seat to have a few too myself. This flight was not very full so I took advantage of the empty space. I put my music on because the movie screen really didnt work in front of me. Somehow I dosed off for a while on the flight, which was nice.
I finally arrived in Mumbai (Bombay) for the older folk, around 210PM May 21st. I breezed through customs, got my luggage and then the real experience began. I didn’t have any rupees (the currency in India), and of course the only ATM in this small international airport did not have a working one. There were several money changers, but I quickly shuffled my stuff past them because I knew they would be a rip off. After leaving the airport with all my stuff and coming back and forth eventually I had no choice but to change money with them. I changed the rest of the money I had gotten from my dad (thanks dad), and then proceeded to the only cell phone company in the airport, airtel, to get a SIM card for my phone. After lots of hassle from them, meaning they wanted a passport size photo (thanks mom), my passport, and some other things, they got the SIM card to work and I was off.
The next thing was that I needed to get a taxi to where I was meeting this guy Rahul. Rahul was someone I met on the site called couchsurfing.com. Briefly, this is a website that was started several years ago by two guys from New Hampshire who thought it would be cool to set up a network where people could offer up their couch to people in the area who were traveling by.
Well I signed up for it originally in 2005, but was never active on it till a few months ago. I found Rahul after much searching for a bed in Mumbai. I figured that this local experience would be worth it, and it would save me a few bucks. Well I called Rahul who was at work, but he arranged for me to meet one of his roommates at some shopping mall in a placed called Bandra west. So I got a prepaid taxi from the airport and got in a really tiny, stripped down, non-airconditioned taxi. Boy was it hot in India and in the taxi. Within five minutes of leaving the airport, I knew something was wrong with the taxi. It was going really slow and the guy was struggling to switch gears. Oh we also almost hit a cow walking down the main road. Cows in the street, only in India. Well after about 15 minutes of putt-putting down the road, getting honked out relentlessly because of how slow he was going, the taxis shit the bed. The dude pulled over, I got out of the taxi, he couldn’t start it up, and in the middle of traffic I helped him push the taxi to the side of the road!
Eventually the driver flagged down this three wheeled auto ricksaw, similar to a tuk tuk from Thailand from those who remember those from last year. For those of you who don’t an auto rickshaw is a three wheeled tiny covered vehicle that zips around the suburbs of Mumbai only. Before I got in to this autoricksaw my taxi driver got in to a fight with the this driver over how much he would pay to take me to Bandra. The driver of the autorickshaw yelled at me “how much did you pay the taxi,” several times, and then I finally responded in a heightened voice “250!” He was stunned it was that cheap and said ok lets go.
I was dropped off in Bandra at the Globus Mall, and called Rahul’s roommate, who’s name I can’t spell nor pronounce so we will call him “V.” V picked me up on foot and said lets go. We schleped all my stuff through side streets, through markets till we got to a building with no lights in the entrance way, up to flights of stairs. The airport is quite nice for Mumbai. It is 500 square feet with a shower and toliet, a living room and a bedroom. The three-four guys all sleep in the bedroom becauseit is cooler there in the nightime. They have several fans, but in the middle of the summer, it is really hot. I was sweating within minutes. After chatting with V and Rahul’s brother Rageev, who also lives there, we watched some cricket and I passed out for two hours in the other room. At this point I was really, really tired and needed a nap. After my nap I took a dump and then a shower.
Showering was an experience in itself. The pressure didn’t really work coming out of the nozzle and I think both the guys knew it but entertained me and tried to fix it. Eventually V said just use the bucket here and fill it up with the water coming out of the pipe. So I did, and showered using a bucket, a smaller one to pour the water on me and went to business. The water felt so nice on my heated body, and while it took me a little while to get the hang out it, I got myself all cleaned up.
After my shower I decided I wanted to walk around and explore. The guys were extremely hesitant to let me walk around as they thought I would get lost, so did I, but it didn’t stop me from trying. It was so interesting walking around the small side streets, people scurrying, motorbikes and push pedal bikes fighting with the people walking for a clear path onwards. At one point I almost picked up the phone to call V to come find me, but I used landmarks (thanks mom) and remembered where their apartment was located. I did have to call V, but told him forget it, I can figure it out and did!
Once I returned to the apartment I finally met Rahul. He is a really nice kid, I think 24 as well and works as a software engineer in south Mumbai. We chatted all together for several hours and at around 1030PM we went to dinner. Apparently eating this late is customary in Mumbai. We went to a place that did not look like a restaurant, and it really isn’t. It is a place for people in the immediate local area to eat. Most pay 1500 rupees per month for two meals everyday. That is much less than one dollar per day for both meals! We sat down and I met one of Rahul’s good friends Tony. Well they call him tony as a nickname but his real name is Vaket, I think. I called him tony because that was much easier.
Eating was interesting. I was given a metal plate/bowl shaped dish, a little tiny bowl and some onion, lime and pickeled pepper to start. This was to be used to mix in with the food to come. Truthfully I have no idea what the main dish consisted off, but I was given “nan” or indian bread, some main dishes, dali and rice. I used one hand like everyone else to eat. They were impressed that A. I could do it, and B. I knew it was traditional to eat with one hand only. I learned in High School from Suri’s parents when I used to see them do it.
After Dinner I was full and Rahul wanted to take me to Bandra Banstan, which was like a boardwalk along the Indian Ocean on the coast of Western Bandra. Tony came along and we took an autorickshaw there.
It was dark when we got there, but really nice to walk, a little cooler as the wind was blowing off the water, and it gave me a chance to get to know Tony and Rahul better.
Tony was quite the character, who was very sarcastic. It was hard to tell at first if he was joking around with me, but eventually Rahul got so mad at him for what he was telling me, that Tony finally leveled with me about who he really was. I told him I knew he was joking (at least I was hoping) and that it was interesting to see how sarcasm is portrayed in another culture.
After going to this place on the ocean, we took an autoricksaw to basically the side of the road somewhere. Rahul told the driver to stop because I needed some soda and water for the night. It is really humid here and drinking is definitely a priority and I only can drink bottled water. After picking up the drinks, Rahul and Tony enjoyed some local coffee and I lit up one of my cuban cigars I picked up from the duty free shop in Abu dhabi. My first wow moment of the trip and it was only day two. After we finished, we walked the rest of the way home, it was really peaceful, slightly cooler and we had a great time chatting among the three of us.
We finally got back to Rahul’s apartment, said goodbye to Tony and went upstairs. The boys were watching the Champions League final, I had wanted to watch it very much so, and it was cool that it was on the TV and live as well! I was rooting for Chelsea, but only made it to half time. After that I passed out on the floor, and had to call it a day. It was 130AM and my journey to India was long. So far so good though, this place seems really amazing and I’m sure I will thoroughly enjoy my time here!